“The best safety device in any aircraft is a well-trained pilot”
The pilot is truly the most critical safety device in any airplane. Without a pilot, an airplane will quit flying in short order.
But, pilots are human, which means we are subject to human things. Things like sickness, fatigue, distraction, anger, fear, brain-farts, and, as we’ve already mentioned, pride. Pilots must manage themselves properly to perform their best.
When we fly, it’s important that we are realistically assessing our own abilities for two reasons:
- To determine if a condition warrants avoiding flying
- To identify potential risks and develop a strategy of avoiding them
Both are important. This discussion is often oversimplified to “if you aren’t 100%, don’t fly”. But ask any professional pilot if they’re always 100% and the answer will be no. If it’s not, watch out: there’s probably an overabundance of pride.
There are absolutely times when a pilot simply shouldn’t fly. But there are a lot of times when it’s borderline and they do. Thus, it’s also important that pilots recognize ways that can mitigate risk even when they have deficiencies.
The I.M.S.A.F.E. acronym is a common checklist for self evaluation as a pilot. It is—
- Illness – Are we sick? How sick? In what ways will our sickness reduce our performance? If we fly, how can we mitigate the risk associated with our illness (e.g. if you have a head cold, avoid higher altitudes which could cause sinus issues)
- Medication – Am I on medication that could adversely affect my abilities as a pilot? Could it cause me to lose focus? Get nauseous? Might it make me tired? Could the mediation get stronger at higher altitudes (e.g. alcohol)
- Stress – Am I stressed? Almost nobody carries zero stress. How will your level of stress affect your ability to fly? Are you distracted? Is there anything you can do to reduce your stress before you fly? Recognize that personal problems need to stay behind on the ground —at least enough that you can fly well.
- Alcohol – Ok, this one is pretty straightforward. Don’t fly while intoxicated. Regulations require that pilots wait 8 hours after any alcohol consumption before flying. Nor can they exceed .04% BAC.
- Fatigue – Are you tired? How tired? Did you miss a night of sleep? Are you chronically sleep deprived? How can to increase your alertness? (e.g. coffee, exercise/stretches)
- Eating/Emotion – The E can be either eating or emotional state, depending on who you ask. Obviously, both are important. Low blood sugar and dehydration needlessly reduce situational awareness. So do various emotional states. Well-regulated emotions are an integral part to good airmanship.